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Self-Portrait after Paul Morphy’s Stroke

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Paul lost his footing, turned out a spectacular corkscrew.
It looked like he was acting out a series of renga

in the air. The general theme was prevenient grace.
But the white rim broke his form, and he hit

the bathtub water like a big charred bough of a tree.
A semicircle of his shoes—Oxfords, monk straps,

bluchers, a lone boot—crowded in to get a look.
After that, Morphy was only surface. You can look

into anything and see what you want. For example,
Pierre swore he could read stock returns

in the little channels of Morphy’s pruned thumbs.
He even called in Schiaparelli’s niece. She entered

with a shoe on her head, I swear. There are pictures,
look it up. My uncle, my unfortunate uncle,

says the whole event—Morphy in the tub—looked
floral, with shoe petals. Just to be difficult, I said

“saucer of milk”: a teacup on a dish, alone in the
quiet, waiting for a cougar to come by. I

always bank on something parched and ambling
to make my point. Or else something with a

broken heel, covered in wet newspaper and
huddled up next to the highway. All thumbs.


Source: Poetry (May 2011)

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This poem originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of Poetry magazine

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Self-Portrait after Paul Morphy’s Stroke

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